Like many Americans, I have been lost in a swirl of emotion, confusion, shock and dread since 3am on November 9th, 2016, when Donald J. Trump was deemed the President-Elect of the United States of America. Let me repeat that: The United States of America. Trump won by winning the Electoral College vote 290-232 but losing the popular vote by over a million ballots.
It is in this context that I today serve as the Director of the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University. I have devoted my career to finding new and better ways to help people address, manage and resolve their most important and contentious differences. Trump’s pending Presidency and its association with campaign rhetoric rife with racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism and authoritarianism presents our work with a sea of daunting challenges. In response, many of my students have begun to question the relevance of constructive conflict engagement during such times. But there is much work to do to help our citizens a) resist our more destructive and divisive tendencies while b) building bridges that can help rectify our deep structural, cultural and moral divides in order to c) work together more effectively to address the many critical problems we face nationally and globally. This work is filled with traps and contradictions, but can be managed if we work strategically, adaptively and persistently.
For those of us still traumatized by, or feeling particularly vulnerable in, this emerging political reality – please allow yourself time to recover. But when you feel ready to get back to work, here is a nine-point strategy to help guide your efforts.